New Test May Help Determine Alzheimer's Risk

Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of preventive approaches

A blood test being developed at UCLA that gauges a person's absorption of a key Alzheimer's indicator could help doctors get ahead of the mysterious disease, which can be treated but has no cure.

"Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of preventive approaches to Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Milan Fiala, lead author of the UCLA study and a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

"We are pleased that the process we've identified using immune cells to help predict Alzheimer's risk will be further developed by MP Biomedicals."

A certain peptide called amyloid beta is a suspected indicator of Alzheimer's, and the blood test shows how much of the peptide is being absorbed by immune cells in the blood, according to the researchers. If the immune system isn't adequately clearing amyloid beta, it may indicate a risk of developing Alzheimer's risk.

Orange County-based MP Biomedicals LLC has a contract to commercialize the UCLA technology and create a diagnostic blood test for public use to screen for Alzheimer's risk.

"We are excited by the opportunity to forward the UCLA science in creating a cost-effective blood test to screen for Alzheimer's risk that could be used in any hospital or lab," said Milan Panic, the chief executive of MP Biomedicals.

The May issue of the Journal of Neuroimmunology carried an article on the UCLA research.


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Researchers took blood samples and isolated monocytes, which from birth act as the immune system's janitors, traveling through the brain and body and gobbling up waste products -- including amyloid beta, according to Fiala.

The monocytes were incubated overnight with amyloid beta, which was labeled with a fluorescent marker. Using a laboratory method known as flow cytometry, researchers measured the amount of amyloid beta ingested by the immune cells by assessing how much fluorescence was being emitted from each monocyte cell, Fiala said.

The 18 Alzheimer's disease patients in the study showed the least uptake of amyloid beta; the healthy control group, which consisted of 14 university professors, demonstrated the highest uptake. Researchers then were able to distinguish with adequate specificity the Alzheimer's disease patients.

The results were found to be positive in 94 percent of the Alzheimer's patients, negative in 100 percent of the control group and positive in 60 percent of study participants who suffered from mild cognitive impairment, a condition that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's, according to Fiala.

"Patients and control subjects were also tracked over time to see if their immune response changed," Fiala said. For example, an Alzheimer's disease patient over time showed declining results, while a university professor continued to demonstrate a high uptake of amyloid beta.

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